COMMANDER DESTROYER SQUADRON SIX, PACIFIC FLEET
June 12, 1942.
||Commander Task Group 17.4
(Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX.)
||Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN.
(The Commander Cruisers, Pacific Fleet).
||Japanese Torpedo Plane Attack on U.S.S. Yorktown
During Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942 -- Report of.
||(a) U.S. Navy Regulations, 1920, Art. 712.
||(A) Copy of War Diary of Commander Destroyer
Squadron SIX for Period June 4-8, 1942.
1. At 1434, June 4, 1942, Commander Task Force SIXTEEN directed Vincennes, Pensacola, Balch (Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX), and Benham to proceed to he aid of Task Force SEVENTEEN which shortly before had been under a heavy Japanese dive bombing attack. Heavy smoke (oil fire) and A.A. bursts, bearing 315° (T), distance about 12 miles, had been previously sighted in vicinity of Task Force SEVENTEEN. At 1522 the above unit joined Task Force SEVENTEEN and augmented screening circle around Yorktown, distance 2000 yards at speed 20 knots. Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX assumed temporary command of Task Group 17.4 (Balch, Benham, Morris, Anderson, Hammann, Hughes, and Russel). Yorktown, steering various courses at speed 5 knots, was smoking heavily from forward section of stack.
2. From 1449 until the torpedo attack numerous reports of "bandits" were received over the warning net from various units of Task Force SEVENTEEN and Task Force SIXTEEN. At 1624 Task Force SEVENTEEN formed cruising disposition Victor on course 090° (T), speed 15 knots, Yorktown guide at center of a circular anti-aircraft screen.
3. At 1641 a group of five enemy planes (later identified at TB) were sighted in line abreast or in a broad Vee formation on bearing 350° (T), distance about 10 miles, position angle 10° heading toward port beam of Yorktown. Shortly thereafter at least four planes, believed enemy, shot down by our fighters, were sighted falling in flames bearing about 10° to left of above planes. Vincennes and Benham opened fire on enemy planes with 5" A.A. battery. Immediately thereafter ships on attack side of formation (port flank) commenced firing with A.A. weapons, medium and close range. Our fighters followed torpedo planes in to the screening circle of cruisers and destroyers and then sheered off to pick them up after torpedo release. One friendly fighter was seen to crash in a vertical dive and one additional Jap plane was brought down in flames before the first torpedo bomber reached the screening circle. The Jap planes at this point were converging singly toward the carrier over an arc of about 45° in a shallow glide and a slow zigzag course at a speed approaching 200 knots. While A.A. fire was heavy, no plane was observed brought down by surface ship fire prior to reaching the torpedo release point.
4. At least four planes, of an estimated ten to twelve Jap planes in the attack group, reached the torpedo release point. Of this number, only two were observed to drop torpedoes -- the remaining two sheered off due possibly to Yorktown A.A. fire and to crowding of a third Jap plane which was slightly ahead and between the two. Two torpedoes are believed to have hit the Yorktown about amidships on the port side following which, she took a heavy list to port.
5. Of the estimated four Jap planes which reached the carrier, three were observed shot down during retirement: one by own VF, one by Balch short range weapon fire (1.1 and 20 MM battery), and one by Balch 5" battery firing a 2.0 second barrage using A.A. common projectile fitted with the Mark XVIII time fuze.
6. No further attacks were made on the formation. Yorktown stopped as a result of the torpedo hit(s) and the cruisers and destroyers of Task Force SEVENTEEN commenced circling, distance 2000 yards, speed 20 knots. Preparations for abandoning ship were being made on the Yorktown and actual abandonment commenced in an orderly fashion at about 1700. Balch, Benham, Anderson and Russell were directed by Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX to close carrier and rescue personnel in water. The large number of personnel in the water immediately surrounding the Yorktown prevented any destroyer from going alongside the listed ship. All destroyers participated in the rescue operations -- each destroyer being ordered to clear and rejoin screening circle when it was considered that sufficient survivors had been taken on board. A total of about 2270 survivors were rescued by the destroyers. Rescue operations were completed at 1846, June 4, 1942, when Balch completed a slow, close circular search of the Yorktown for survivors.
7. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS AS A RESULT OF THE ACTION.
(a) The 5" battery and close range weapons of surface ships are only partially effective in repelling a determined torpedo attack because of the low rate of fire of the 5" battery and fuze failures; short effective range of the 20 MM guns; and the failure of short range weapon gunners to lead the target sufficiently.
(b) Japanese torpedo plane pilots pressed home their attack against strong fighter opposition and heavy anti-aircraft fire and released their torpedoes at ranges under 1000 yards.
(c) Japanese torpedo planes are highly maneuverable and fast (about 200 knots loaded).
(d) Japanese planes appeared to pierce the screen between adjacent ships. This gave a difficult high bearing rate problem for close range weapon gunners.
(e) Effectiveness of VF protection -- insufficient number of VFs but excellent work was performed by those engaging the enemy.
(f) Screening vessels must close the carrier to not more that 1500 yards and all available CAs and DDs should be on the same circle.
(g) Rescue cargo nets should be held off ships sides by distance pieces (4" x 4" timber) to facilitate climbing.
(h) Rescue hoisting lines should be fitted with a hook to permit of quick fitting about the body. Oil soaked lines can not be tied properly.
(i) Ring life buoys should be painted yellow.
(j) Thorough instruction and stationing of officers and men for rescue work is essential.
8. The conduct of officers and men was satisfactory. The exemplary conduct of certain men during the rescue operations is covered in the reports of the ships concerned. The outstanding conduct of Doctor Claude m. Lee, Jr. (Lt. (jg) M.C., U.S.N.R. U.S.S. Balch) in caring for the 544 survivors rescued by the Balch, his all night occupation with the operative and surgical care of injured men, his forethought in providing adequate and special medical supplies and in training of personnel to handle this particular emergency will be made the subject of a special letter in which he will be recommended for advancement to the rank of Lieutenant.
ComTaskFor 17 (7)
ComTaskFor 17.5 (1)
ComTaskFor 16 (2 less enclosure A)
CDS 2 (1)
Source: Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet report, Serial 01849 of 28 June 1942, World War II action reports, Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.